Losing Jason Peters for the year, as the Eagles did when he ruptured his achilles last week, is a devastating blow to the team’s hopes in 2012. Peters, if not the best offensive tackle in the league, is certainly in the top five. He’s a nimble mountain on the field, protecting Michael Vick and steamrolling defenders for LeSean McCoy. No matter when it happened, this injury would cause a big step back on offense.
However, despite some reporters’ unconvincing headlines, the Eagles are especially unprepared to deal with Peters’s injury. The team is lucky that there are still free agent options available and that they have a variety of early round picks if they want to go that route. But compared to past years, the Eagles have few players on the roster who can step into Peters’s shoes.
Because Juan Castillo (remember him?) built his lines from the outside-in, the most important tackle spots often had multiple potential replacements. Back in 2006, 2007 the Eagles had three players other than starters Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan prepping to step into their shoes. Todd Herremans and Shawn Andrews, both tackles in college, were starters at guard, and Winston Justice was learning as a backup tackle.
There was nothing guaranteed about their success, and indeed Andrews flamed out spectacularly after that. But there was no question as to what options were available if and when Thomas/Runyan couldn’t go. Even before Peters’s injury though, the depth at offensive tackle had worn thin. King Dunlap has shown flashes of potential in limited action, but has a meager pedigree and limited expectations. Justice, an adequate starter for two seasons, was shipped off for pennies to Indianapolis.
Moreover, Howard Mudd’s offensive line seems to be assembled in the opposite direction from Castillo’s. Whereas Jamaal Jackson was a huge linemen who would have shifted out to guard at least, Jason Kelce’s sub-300 lb. frame couldn’t play anywhere but center. Evan Mathis and Danny Watkins both played tackle in college, but projected to guards in the NFL (not that you would trust Watkins out there anyway). The team may try one or both on the outside, but neither has the potential to star as a tackle, like Herremans, Andrews, and Justice did.
Building and maintaining a NFL roster is tremendously difficult. At any moment, even in the offseason, an injury can take a position from strength to weakness. That’s why depth is so important, and unfortunately, the Eagles have burned through their tackle depth over the last few years and failed to replace it. In the last three drafts, Howie Roseman drafted just one tackle — Fenuki Tupou, who never took a single regular season snap.
Likely that will change this year, and the Eagles will take at least one early draft pick to compete for Peters’s spot. But depth isn’t necessarily something you can manufacture in a few weeks. With that in mind, it may already be too late to avoid disaster.
Photo from Getty.